PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Not everyone is ready to dive right into college classes after high school graduation. For some, a gap year is the perfect opportunity to get some real world experience, and it’s becoming an increasingly popular option for students.
According to the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, 33,000 high school seniors took a gap year last year, nearly double the number from 2011.
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“I think a gap year is a year on, not a year off,” said Jennie Johnson, executive director of City Year in Rhode Island.
The growing trend was made even more mainstream by First Daughter Malia Obama’s decision to take a year off from classroom work before starting at Harvard University.
Between senior year of high school and freshman year of college is typically when a student will defer enrollment, but Ethan Rex is spending the year between his associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in another school: mentoring kids in Providence.
A few weeks ago, Rex packed up and moved from Ohio to Rhode Island. He earned college credits while he was still in high school and completed his associate’s degree. Now, he’s taking a gap year as a City Year AmeriCorps member.
Rex will spend a year working at Pleasant View Elementary School in Providence before pursuing his bachelor’s degree.
“I didn’t really have a plan set for me,” he said. “I felt like taking a year off and traveling, doing all that, would have been fun, but it wouldn’t have been beneficial to what I wanted to pursue in my life.”
This year, the program has 58 AmeriCorps members at six schools.
“They are learning a lot and gaining a lot from their experience, but they are putting so much in,” Johnson added. “And I think it’s inspiring that right here in the U.S. young people are willing to step up and give a year of service.”
There is a financial benefit for City Year AmeriCorps members. They receive a bi-weekly stipend and at the end of their year of service, they get about $5,700 that can be used for education to pay off student debt.
While some students work with programs like AmeriCorps, others travel. Joe Palekas spent his gap year in Morocco studying Arabic.
“I figured out generally what I wanted to do, and it just gave me a whole new perspective,” said Palekas.
Many colleges, such as Brown University and American University, even offer structured gap year programs.What do you think? Are gap years a good idea or a bad move for high school seniors? Head to the WPRI 12 Facebook page to join the conversation.